116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Bureaucrats are coming for Iowa’s farm puddles again. OK, not really.
But as the Biden administration surveys the environmental wreckage left by our previous occupant, we’re starting to see the same old dishonest sludge being spread by Republican members of Congress from Iowa. They’re trying to muddy the waters on dirty water.
In 2014, when the Obama administration introduced its “Waters of the United States” rules, or WOTUS, the sludge machine swiftly kicked into its highest gear. Regulators who were basically trying to clarify the Clean Water Act to reflect new science on the consequential water quality connections between small streams, groundwater, wetlands and larger bodies of water were painted as an existential threat.
Iowa U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst declared that WOTUS would allow “a tire track that collects rain water” to be regulated by the federal government. Ernst and others insisted the rules would allow the feds to regulate 97 percent of Iowa land, a figure cooked up by the Iowa Farm Bureau.
Truth is, the vast array of Clean Water Act exemptions for agriculture that existed before WOTUS were included in the new rules. The specter of regulators probing farm puddles was a lie for political effect.
And, of course, it worked. Farm groups, big business and development interests found in Donald Trump a candidate more than happy to peddle their nonsense about WOTUS, along with his personal brand of dishonesty. As president, his Environmental Protection Agency scrapped WOTUS and rolled out the far narrower Navigable Waters Protection Rule.
Trump’s rule left half of the nation’s wetlands unprotected, allowing developers to fill them in without fear of federal interference. Many smaller waterways and ephemeral streams in the West were left out. Irrigation canals that could carry livestock waste to vegetable growing operations? Not included.
The EPA’s own science advisers panned the Trump rules, arguing the agency didn’t provide a scientific basis for refusing to address the hydrological connectivity between wetlands, groundwater and navigable rivers. But as the push against WOTUS shows, none of this is really about science.
Now the Biden administration is looking for a way to scrap the Navigable Waters Protection Rule and put together its own package of clean water safeguards. The president ran on addressing environmental problems, after all, and won a non-stolen election. Complicating matters is that the Trump rules are tied up in court fights.
But, luckily, we have some new members of Congress to take a fresh look.
“Under the WOTUS Rule, the federal government would have authority to regulate water on 97 percent of the land in Iowa,” said 2nd District U.S. Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks in a statement earlier this month announcing a renewed GOP push to stop any new water protections. She’s leading the charge.
“The NWPR is much more workable and keeps our water and land clean without destroying businesses in the process,” Miller-Meeks said.
“Bureaucrats who have never set foot in Iowa shouldn’t regulate ditches and puddles on farms,” tweeted 1st District U.S. Rep. Ashley Hinson, while vowing to stand with Miller-Meeks.
“Together, we’re pushing back on yet another attempted Washington power grab that would only make it harder for Iowans to farm, ranch, and build,” added Ernst, R-Tire Track.
I’m not sure why people bother to run for Congress just so they can become cookie-cutter party drones, apparently drained of curiosity and ready to adopt any tired talking points. But it happens all the time. And you’ve got to love concerns about “confusion” coming from politicians doing all they can to confuse us.
But all the water-carrying on water is appreciated.
“The American Farm Bureau Federation applauds the efforts of Rep. Miller-Meeks to support the Navigable Waters Protection Rule, which provides a balanced approach to protecting our nation’s waterways and wetlands while providing much needed clarity and consistency for farmers, ranchers and regulators,” said Zippy Duvall, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation.
The Farm Bureau and other large agricultural and agribusiness interests that back these fine public servants believe they can’t afford to let any regulations get through, no matter how little they actually affect farmers. What if an effective national effort to protect water catches on? What if voters want more? Who knows what could be next?
So carpet bomb everything, conjure up bureaucratic boogeymen and send public officials out to lie to their constituents. And what’s better for America, a strip mall or a wetland?
One justification for the narrower Trump water rule was that states surely would fill gaps in protection.
Iowa Republicans and their allies, of course, also don’t want real water protection at the state level. They don’t want to protect Iowa lakes from algae bloom or rivers from the over-application of nitrogen fertilizer or even our most outstanding streams from manure spills and runoff.
Farm in the flood plains, build as many livestock confinements as you want. Don’t like it? Plead with the environmental protectors for help. Watch them shrug.
Better take it up with the puddle police.
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